By Dan Primack
December 20, 2011

That is not a rhetorical headline, following which I will tell you what happened to a South San Francisco-based pharma company that launched in 2005 with much fanfare and $70 million in venture capital funding. I honestly want to know, because the company seems to have disappeared without a trace.

Cerimon was founded by Paul Sekhri, who at the time had been both a venture capitalist and senior executive at pharma companies like Novartis (NVS) and ARIAD (ARIA). As he explained to me at a swanky launch party in Boston — where servers wore surgical scrubs while handing out spoonfuls of still-trendy tuna tartar — the idea was to license and acquire drugs for unmet medical needs. The first two would be topical formulations of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which, at the time, were only available in Europe and Japan.

To finance the endeavor, Cerimon raised $70 million from MPM Capital (where the company was incubated), OrbiMed Advisors and Phase4 Ventures (then a corporate VC unit of Nomura). It was one of the year’s ten largest deals, and the third-largest for an early-stage company. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

The deal caused hyperventilation among other life sciences entrepreneurs, who wondered both if Cerimon had raised too much money and how their companies could also secure such a stash. 

From the outside looking in, things seemed fine. Cerimon kept putting out press releases about clinical trial advances and kept hiring new employees.

Then Sekhri quietly left at the end of 2008, to join investment firm TPG Biotech as the head of its biotech ops group. He was succeeded by board member James Shannon, but then he also departed around 18 months later. No replacement was named.

Fast-forward to today. Calls to the company headquarters get rerouted to something called the El Camino Leasing Office. And its office space (suite 100) is apparently available. So I’d assume it’s kaput and the $70 million lost, except for two factors:

1. Cerimon’s website remains online.

2. Cerimon remains listed as an active portfolio company on the websites of each of its venture capital backers.

So I emailed Paul Sekhri, to ask if Cerimon still exits. His reply: “I believe that it does, but I wouldn’t swear to it.”

Beyond odd. Not only would Sekhri presumably still have equity interests, but wouldn’t he at least have a passing interest in the fortunes of a company he founded. I’m still trying to follow up. I also left messages with those involved over at MPM and other (former?) Cerimon board members, but have not yet heard back.

Maybe this post will help solve the mystery. And, if it does, I’ll be sure to provide an update…

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